GREENFIELD — The first thing Tim Regan did before instructing the group of young soccer players standing before him was to make it clear that a coach’s presence wasn’t required for players to find success in the sport.
“You don’t need a coach to do this,” said the Indy Eleven assistant coach as he observed the eager assembly of six-to-14-year-olds practice the finer points of juggling, ball balancing and dribbling techniques.
Under blue skies and plenty of sunshine, representatives from the North American Soccer League’s local expansion franchise made their way to Brandywine Park in Greenfield Monday to spread the word about the game on the tips of many American’s tongues following a wildly popular World Cup in Brazil. Campers donned white Indy Eleven T-shirts and followed Regan’s directives as the assistant coach of the local pro soccer franchise paced the grassy terrain and attempted to foster the skills of local children.
Attracting the attention of Indianapolis-area communities is a critical mission for the Eleven. The club’s head coach, Juergen Sommer, spent his pre-professional soccer days in the Hoosier State at Culver Academy and Indiana University. Sommer’s team features eight players who either played high school or college ball in Indiana.
The Greenfield Area Soccer Club plays the role of host this week for the Eleven’s latest soccer camp, which runs through Thursday. Last week, the Eleven held a camp in Fishers. Campers receive a T-shirt, a ticket to a future Indy Eleven game and are eligible to obtain additional prizes.
“It serves a dual purpose. The kids learn soccer and Indy Eleven is able to market themselves,” said John Skene, the Director of Academy Soccer for the GASC. “It brings something new and different.”
The Eleven, which began play in the 10-team NASL – a Division II league in the American soccer structure, second only to Major League Soccer – on April 12 during the league’s Spring Season, sold 7,000 season tickets before playing a single match and have played before strong home crowds as IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Stadium during their brief tenure.
Regan said that support has continued despite a 0-4-5 mark in the Spring Season. The Eleven opened their Fall Season with the franchise’s first-ever victory last Saturday, a 2-1 decision over the Carolina RailHawks. The club is eyeing its initial home victory Saturday night vs. the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
“It’s amazing that even through some not-so-successful moments on the field, the support continues to improve – from social media response to media to fans you see on the street to fans you see at games – they’re still positive in the sense that, ‘We’re trying. We’re playing good soccer.’ And the organization continues to get better game after game after game,” said Regan, who suited with four MLS squads during his playing career and most recently served as the St. Louis Scott Gallagher Club’s Development Academy Director.
“Clearly, a win to start the Fall Season helps the confidence of the players and brings a smile to everyone’s faces.”
Monday, Regan was joined by Don Smart, a 26-year-old Jamaican-born midfielder for the Eleven. Smart’s biggest recommendation to aspiring fútbolers? Follow his lead and force your parents to come drag you off the pitch.
“It’s all about having fun, first of all. Once you have fun, everything else comes naturally,” offered Smart, who said he had family members play for the Jamaican national team, which facilitated his love for the sport. “You just have to keep practicing and practicing until you become perfect. Stay with it every single day and play as much as you can.”
Soccer has become Regan’s life work. A native of Orland Hills, Illinois, the 32-year-old Regan played at Bradley (Illinois) University. He’s held jobs with U.S. Soccer and as a chief scout for Toronto FC, an MLS club.
“I’m no different than the kids at camp,” Regan said of where his zest for soccer began. “I had four older brothers that dabbled in soccer at some point and I just followed. Once I got going, I never stopped. It’s something I loved doing.
“I never had to be told to go to training – always wanted to be there. (There’s) that camaraderie you get from any sport, and I think soccer has always been unique in terms of people bonding together.”
With record television numbers and an exciting tournament to boot, the trendy sentiment following the World Cup is to say soccer is on the rise in America.
“My two girls watched almost every (World Cup) game. They’ve got that bug from watching it,” Skene, a Greenfield resident, said of his daughters Hannah, age nine, and Gabi, age eight. “They were ready for camp to start.”
Smart, who lives in Carmel, has been impressed with the soccer following in the Indianapolis area. Thousands of people crowded a sector of Mass Ave in downtown Indy July 1 to watch the U.S. take on Belgium in the World Cup’s knockout round. The block party was the brainchild of the Eleven and the city of Indianapolis.
“It’s becoming pretty big since the World Cup. Everyone watched the World Cup and watched the U.S. Everyone is getting attached to soccer now,” Smart said. “All the parents have their kids wanting to play soccer now because of the World Cup. It’s a good thing.”
At one point, Regan asked the campers to show off any moves they saw at the World Cup. One brave little girl attempted what looked like an impression of Netherlands forward Robin Van Persie’s flying header vs. Spain, one of the tournament’s transcendent goals.
As the afternoon progressed and the sun continued to shine on Brandywine Park, the youngsters in cleats tried to manipulate their feet into executing ‘the rake’, ‘the V’ and the ‘pull behind’ – dribbling combinations that require the practice and dedication Regan and Smart preached.
Regan began Monday’s training session with the not-so-fun exercises for a reason.
“Most like to skip the technical training, the technique with the ball. It’s hard, it’s tedious. It takes a long time to master,” said Regan, who was flanked at Tuesday’s camp by Indy Eleven goalkeeper Nathaniel Sprenkel, a Zionsville native who played at DePauw. “They like to go to the more fun, bigger picture things of just playing 11 vs. 11 on the field. Sometimes they get to that point before their feet are ready for it.
“It’s still a fun game regardless of the skill level, but when you’re comfortable with the ball, it makes it a lot easier for coaches to teach at older ages.”
>> Indy Eleven members with Indiana connections, listed with position, hometown (if applicable) and college:
> GK Nathaniel Sprenkel
(Zionsville, DePauw University)
>GK Jon Dawson
(Indianapolis, Butler University)
> D Chris Estridge
(Brownsburg, Indiana University)
> D Kyle Hyland (IUPUI)
> MF Dylan Mares (Zionsville, Indiana University)
> MF Andrew John Corrado
(Zionsville, Indiana University)
> MF Brad Ring (Indiana University)
> F Michael Ambersley (Indiana University)
> Assistant coach Gary Yohe
(Brebeuf High School, Marian University)
>>Founded in January, 2013, the Indy Eleven professional soccer franchise quickly developed an impressive fanbase. The Eleven sold 7,000 season tickets for their first season in the North American Soccer League, which began in April. Social media was a large part of Indy Eleven’s embrace by fans. In fact, the Eleven have already passed the Indiana Fever, now in its 15th year in the WNBA, in Twitter followers. Here’s how Indy pro sports franchises rank in Twitter followers, as well as Facebook likes.
Facebook: 2.4 million
Facebook: 2.1 million